Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41 | Revelations 5:11-14 | John 21:1-19
May your people exalt forever, oh, God, a renewed youthfulness of spirit so rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption, we may look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
Last Sunday we explored the mystery of God living within us, God announcing to his disciples how present he was after his death, how much he wanted to be a part of their ministry throughout their lives. How unusual and strange it must have seemed to them that he was saying, “I want to live inside of you and guide you and be with you, and together you and me, we will do wonderful things — wonderful things.”
I’m often envious of those people that lived at the time this all happened. I wonder what that must have been like, because the change to me has always been there, meaning I’ve always lived in a redeemed world. I don't know what it was like to live in an unredeemed world. I know what it’s like to live around people who don’t believe in a renewed, incredibly beautiful world. Maybe that’s part of the way we identify with this time, but this was Rome that they lived in, well, Jerusalem, but Rome occupied them. Rome was the great power, and it was considered not to be just a government but a god. The emperor was god, so there was the god of the world of Rome, and there was the God of Israel. And how dramatically they were exposed to be so different, so radically different, yet I would think that, when the disciples were thinking of Jesus being — the Savior being the new king, that they had a lot of that baggage of politics and power and strength over people as they imagined what it would be like to sit on the kind of position of authority that Jesus would have when he became the new king.
But what was revealed was something quite different than the way the world works, and so we see in this first reading the influence that happens to a human being when they’re living in doubt and confusion. It’s interesting. When you look at the disciples as 12 men, there was one who understood the heart of Jesus. He knew him. He understood him. He was the first one that arrived at the tomb. He was the one who laid on the chest of Jesus in a very famous painting, showing he understood the heart of this man, the essence of Jesus, and he was there at the cross, never doubted him, always believed, one extreme, and then the other is Judas. Somehow the image or the sense of the world in Rome at the time, this powerful force that sucked life out of anyone and anybody that could make an entertainment out of people killing animals or killing each other, he bought into that world and couldn’t conceive of what Jesus was really talking about. So he rejected it all. So in these two extremes — well, the other ten were like all of us, sort of believe, sort of don’t. I don't know. When you listen to this first reading, you get a sense of how they changed, how radically they changed, and what changed in them was their conviction of what was true, that Jesus was the one who was to come to save the world. His presence in them changed them dramatically from a person of timidity of fear and shame, when he died, into these powerhouses of truth. They stood up against the other god, the emperor, his ambassador there and just said, “We do not change our mind because you don’t agree with us. We are so convinced. We know the truth, and we will never, ever be silenced.” Just such a dramatic change for those men, and that was within a matter of weeks, days. We’re not sure, but obviously it isn’t the way human beings normally change. It takes time, takes a lot of time, but this — well, they had three years to watch and to see this image of God in Jesus, but it wasn’t until that image entered into them and became one with them that they became the truth. That’s the beauty of redemption. We’re not teaching it, talking about it. We are it. That’s it. We are it. When you truly are transformed into a body that is filled with divinity and your presence is resonating this energy, this youthfulness, this excitement that is founded in the truth of what is revealed to us about the world about ourselves, about our interaction with it all, our destiny — we are all integral pieces of this incredible, marvelous plan of God, whose intention is that the fullness of all things that he made, everything, every life form, with God in us and we in God are going to participate in their finding their fullness. It’s an amazing destiny — amazing.
So in the second reading, we have this image of the church in heaven, let’s say. We have the church on earth, church in heaven. Church on earth is us, the church, all believers, the world, animals, insects, and the world of church in eternity is made up of this God now celebrating the lamb, the sacrifice that’s been offered, the gift that’s been given to the world that’s unlocked this potential that was somehow enslaved and caught in blindness and stress. It’s been broken open, and we’re all of a sudden participating in something so wonderful that the only response to its wonder and its awe is just this incredible voice of praise and honor, glory. So you see an image with God on this throne with Jesus in God and God in Jesus. So just imagine it’s the Trinity sitting there, as it always is and always has been, but then there is this sense of everyone around them having this response. The elders were considered the — they’re the leaders of the church in the eternal world of life after death, and they’re all bowing and surrendering to this incredible power. It’s like an image of what the church in the world has to do. It has to free itself from its obligation, self-imposed often, that they are going to save people through doling out the sacraments and the things that save people. They get caught up in that and — no. It’s all done by this incredible servant God for us in the form of a God/man who was the image of who we’re to become. It’s a beautiful, beautiful image.
So this is the thing that I’m wanting you to feel about redemption, the thing we’ve received. It’s a power to see past all the lies of the world. It’s a freedom from all the fears. The disciples were so afraid of even identifying with this man Jesus for fear of what might happen to them. It’s like being out of that prison of fear, and then all the stress that comes in life, with the kind of inner critic we have and the shame we feel, all of that is blasted apart. And we can see, and we’re carefree, and we are at peace. And you wonder sometimes if it isn’t really the task of believing that first and then experiencing it, believing that that’s what has been given. When we try to do it ourselves, we’re using our humanity on our own. At least that’s what I’ve always done, and that never is enough. And then we still wallow in shame and fear and blindness. It’s all about that image of the elders kneeling, bowing before this awesome gift being given, and we have to do the same.
So now we’re going to look at the gospel, and it’s going to talk about that implanting, in this small group of men, this wonder, this enthusiasm, this youthfulness for their role in the world. So it’s an image that picks up almost from the Lord’s Supper. Remember, that is when he gave himself to these men in the Eucharist, and he told them he needed them to go forth and to preach and to teach [unintelligible 00:10:44] to the priesthood. Now it’s like, okay, let’s look at those images being actually rooted in an experience for the disciples. So you have just a small portion of them, and they decide to go fishing, which is what they did for a living, but it’s also what God promised they would do for the kingdom, to be fishers, fishers of men. So they’re back at their job, fishing. It’s almost like they went back to the way they were, and perhaps that was part of where they were at that time. When you change, you become aware of something. It’s not completely, fully who you are, but let’s just say it’s the critical mass of who you, and you say finally, “I give in to it completely.” But here they are fishing. It’s at night. So there they are in blindness and darkness, and so here’s the light talking to them from the shore. I love the fact that he calls them children. It’s almost just a sweet way of saying, “You’re just beginning to see all this. Take your time. You’re still children in this,” because they were confused and in awe and wondering still. And so he just tells them how to do it correctly. “Fish on the other side.” It’s just another way of saying, “You’ve got the right intention. You know what you’re doing. You’re trying to catch these fish, but let me help you, because when I help you, when I’m in you, helping you, I’m going to give you what is right, what is successful, what is fruitful.” So they do it, and there’s this enormous catch of fish. And so it’s only one of the disciples, obviously the one I’ve already spoken of, the beloved John — he recognizes, “This is Jesus.” He says it to Peter, and Peter — I don't know. It’s really interesting. It used to be the translation was he was naked, and he put on clothes and then jumped in. This is a little different. He was lightly clad, maybe without a shirt, and he puts his clothes on, but I wonder if that isn’t a reference to Adam and Eve’s reaction to the presence of God when they were still ashamed, covered themselves up. And then as they come, Jesus feeds them and then makes a very interesting point. He gives them this nourishing food. In a way he’s saying, “Your work of catching men, women, children, drawing them into this new life that is so clearly seen and so freeing and so peace-creating,” he’s saying, “When you do that, you’re going to find such enormous satisfaction. Your work itself is going to bring you the peace that you long for and the joy you long for.” Then he makes a very strong point about how this new church is going to run, how different it’s going to be than the temple. First of all, he just says, “It has everything to do with how you believe in me. Do you believe in me because I exist, or do you love me because of what I do for you, that I open your eyes, that I free you from slavery, that I bring you peace?” When you see something beautiful and life-giving, you love it. So three times Peter denied him. Now three times he affirms that he loves this man Jesus. He loves this God Jesus, and Jesus says, “Well, I am the people you are going to serve. I am in them as I am in you, and when you minister to someone, you’re ministering to me. And you must do that out of a love — out of a love — out of a love that is not in any way, shape or form caught up in judgment, condemnation, criticism. But the same love you feel for me now at this moment, I want you to feel for them, and when you have that love for them, you’ll create the church that I always longed to see.”
Father, we pray for your enlightenment, for the longing that you have within your heart to enable us to see the plan that you have prepared for us and your invitation to not only call us into this work but to be the source of the success of that work, but you humble yourself to need us. You don’t need anyone. God doesn’t need people in the sense of he’s not complete. It’s just that he chooses to depend upon his creation to participate with him. So bless us with this joyous responsibility and this amazing honor to be a part of not just being drawn to you but drawing others to you also, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.